I Hate Borsch! – Perfect Picture Book Friday

There’s something about Yevgenia Nayberg’s illustration style that speaks to my heart. I can recognize one of her books from 50 paces, and I’m nearsighted. I think it’s her color palette and surrealist bent.

The minute I walked by the library display last week, I knew this book would be coming home with me. But when I opened the book to the first spread, I suspected that it would be finding a place in my permanent collection. Just look at that tsunami of scarlet soup!

Text/Art ©Yevgenia Nayberg

When I was little, I hated borsch.

“Get away from me, you red, thick, DISGUSTING SOUP!”

Talk about touching on the universal! Doesn’t everyone feel this way about at least one food, like brussels sprouts, liver, or peas.

Now let’s focus on the absurdity of the situation heightened by the art.

Text/Art ©Yevgenia Nayberg

A disembodied arm with a completely over-sized spoon stretches across the page. The child looks like she’s about to barf.

But then we learn that this child is living in Ukraine. Of course! that’s why she’s supposed to “love borsch from the first moment you picked the vegetables.” Everyone’s grandmother has a special, secret recipe. Some grandmothers think you should eat it every day! So life is hard—very hard—for this Ukrainian child who despises borsch…especially since there isn’t much of anything else offered at the table. Will moving to the U.S. save her from this evil food?

Before she leaves, every grandma she knows gives her a recipe—which she leaves in the bottom of her suitcase.

In the U.S., the girl discovers that Americans add a T at the end of the name of her hated soup, but it doesn’t make it taste any better. Instead, the girl chooses to eat strange American foods (I won’t spill the jokes here)…but it turns out that something is missing.

Suffice to say that the back matter contains a yummy recipe for borsch, along with an author’s note.

This story about first rejecting and then embracing one’s roots is both funny and poignant, but my knowledge of the current situation in Ukraine adds heavy notes of sadness. Yevgenia is from Ukraine, and I see this as a loving tribute to her homeland, a place that she would be hard-pressed to recognize if she were to visit now.

A recent post on the Nerdy Book Club blog by a teacher living in Ukraine asks American teachers to talk to their students about what children in a war zone may be going through. They may be studying in bomb shelters or have no more than 2 hours worth of electricity available each day. And worse, they may have lost friends or family. The teacher suggests some books by her favorite Ukrainian children’s author to share with students that may help provide perspective, along with a book (a diary) written by a 12-yr-old girl living in the Ukraine about the first couple months of war.


Find other books that Yevgenia has written and illustrated or works by other authors that she’s illustrated. (ex. Anya’s Secret Society, Numbers in Motion by Laurie Wallmark, The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, or Typewriter) Compare the art from each. What do you think is distinctive about Yevgenia’s work? Try drawing/painting in her style, and see what you create.

Compare this book with Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara. How are the stories similar? How are they different?

Make your own borsch using the recipe provided in the book.

Read and discuss this book, How War Changed Rondo, along with those suggested by the Ukrainian teacher.

Title: I Hate Borsch!

Author/Illustrator: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022

Themes: homesickness, cooking, immigration

Ages: Elementary school

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

2 thoughts on “I Hate Borsch! – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    You really know how to pick great stories. I love that it is an ode by the author to Ukraine. I love the Ukranian teacher’s request for western teachers to discuss what is happening in a war zone.
    I love the story about how fickel kids can be about certain foods. I love beets, but I’ve never eaten borsch. This is a book all kids and adults will identify with because there is something they disliked. I hated raw tomatoes picked off the vine as a kid — still do. The illustrations are delightful and speak volumes — I love your clever despcription of the tsunami of red. Wonderful share today!

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